Linda Harvey to retire from position at the helm of Community Land Trust

LACONIA — After 24 years as the first and only executive director of the Laconia Area Community Land Trust, Linda Harvey announced this week that she will retire in May.

During Harvey's tenure the trust has invested $87 million in developing 277 units of permanently affordable housing in four municipalities — Laconia, Meredith, Tilton and Wolfeboro — that together have housed 1,660 people and she is leaving a legacy of another 89 units in the pipeline. At the same time, thousands of residents of the Lakes Region have taken part in the financial literacy and homebuyer education programs, offered by the trust without charge, many of whom have become homeowners.

Harvey said that apart from spending more time with family and friends and ultimately returning to Maine, where she was born and raised, she has no specific plans for her retirement.

Although Harvey and the trust have earned dozens of awards over the years, she has worked out of the limelight, never becoming a household name, but few have left a bolder stamp on the Lakes Region community or given a helping hand to so many of its residents.

In a prepared statement Jason Hicks, who chairs the trust's board of trustees, expressed the gratitude of the trustees for Harvey's "remarkable service." He recalled that "as a sole employee starting with a borrowed folding chair, she grew the organization into a nationally recognized success story." Harvey, he continued, "engaged local communities to recognize a need for affordable housing for its citizens and helped them provide it. She developed a vast network of committed stakeholders to create permanently affordable community assets. She assembled a team of highly skilled staff to provide programs of excellence and impact to thousands of Lakes Region residents. We will be forever mindful and proud of her achievements and stewardship. It is with mixed emotions that wish her well in her future endeavors, and we transition to new leadership."

A native of Rockport, Maine, Harvey came to New Hampshire 34 years ago with degrees in social work from the University of Connecticut. She said that the more she worked in providing mental health and social services the more she realized that the welfare of many of her clients was compromised by the lack suitable housing. She was not alone in sensing the need and by the late 1980s a diverse group began meeting in the basement of the Congregational Church, where they wrestled with addressing the poor condition and high cost of much of the housing stock in the city. Harvey said the most pressing need was for family housing, units with three or more bedrooms, which were in especially scarce supply.

"We chose the land trust model," Harvey said, explaining that it ensured both that the program would be controlled by local citizens and the housing it provided would be forever affordable. The trust was established in 1993. Harvey said that before building homes the first step was to "build a foundation of friendships and partnerships" among city officials, local bankers, civic organizations, church groups and the like. "The saying was that whenever two or more people got together," Harvey remarked, "Linda Harvey was there talking about the Laconia Area Community Land Trust."

Harvey said the first project undertaken by the trust was the rehabilitation of 10 duplexes scattered about the city, including some properties donated by local banks, which acquired them through foreclosure in the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The trust identified three neighborhoods with the most substandard housing stock then those properties most in need of repair. Altogether 32 units, mostly in duplexes, and another 10 units in two buildings, were rehabilitated to become permanently affordable housing. "Once they were rehabbed," she said, "there was a ripple effect and other landlords and homeowners in the neighborhood improved their properties."

Soon afterwards, in 1994, residents of the Avery Hill neighborhood in Laconia approached the trust. "That was our first big project," Harvey said, explaining that the trust acquired a number of buildings, which were demolished or rebuilt, and developed 14 residential units in seven buildings in their place along with green space and a playground. "It was a $1 million project financed with 14 different funding sources," she said. Three years later, the trust rehabilitated 18 family units in nine buildings in the Pine Hill neighborhood. And in 2001 another 19 units in seven buildings, including the Batchelder Street School, were completed in the "hospital hill" area.

In 2012 the trust was chosen by Neighbor Works America for its portfolio strengthening program, which along with support from the the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority provided technical assistance and financial resources to upgrade 60 of the earliest units the trust developed.

The trust redeveloped the site of the former Vernitron factory on Union Avenue in 2004, where tons of contaminated soil threatening the Winnipesaukee River were removed. What became Millview consists of 18 units divided among five colonial buildings overlooking the river and Belknap and Busiel mills and Avery Dam. Two years later, the Mechanic Street School in Lakeport was converted to house four one bedroom and two two bedroom apartments,

Meanwhile, the trust began hearing from towns in the region about their need for affordable rental housing. In Meredith, the trust acquired property on Boynton Road where it developed Pinecrest Apartments, 32 one, two and three bedroom units, and Frances Court Manufactured Housing Park with six two and three bedroom units. The trust built 48 apartments at Harriman Hill in Wolfeboro and another 47 at Lochmere Meadows in Tilton.

This year, after working outside the city for a decade, the trust opened River's Edge, a three-story with 700 feet of frontage on the Winnipesaukee River and 32 apartments, a dozen one-bedroom units and a score of two-bedroom units. River's Edge is also home to Community Infant Daycare, operated by Lakes Region Child Care Services, and an office of HOMEteam, which offers information and counsel about buying, renting and maintaining a home.

Harvey said that she is especially proud that the trust has paid some $3 million in property taxes on the properties it has developed, which on top of direct investments in permanently affordable housing units and counseling programs to foster home ownership, represents a contribution of more than $90 million to the communities served by the trust.

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Rezoning The Weirs trashed by planners

Mayor wanted to make more land available for commercial development

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — It’s back to the drawing board on zoning changes at their Weirs. Following a public hearing this week, the Planning Board voted unanimously to scuttle the proposal to redraw the zoning map at The Weirs prepared by Mayor Ed Engler and endorsed by the City Council, while at the same time agreeing to consider a handful of changes to the permitted uses within the Commercial Resort District.
Engler said yesterday, “I’m disappointed at what happened at the Planning Board,” calling the proceedings “a very poor way to craft public policy. The Planning Board had before it a a complex and complicated plan that needed a thorough and detailed discussion and vetting by the board and it did not get it.”
Intended to set aside land for commercial development, the proposal would designate a corridor, 800 feet wide along both sides of US Route 3 and NH Route 11-B between the Meredith town line and White Oaks Road, within which residential dwellings would be confined to the upper stories of buildings that house commercial space on the ground floor.
At the public hearing, none of the nearly dozen speakers, who included a half dozen property owners and business operators at The Weirs, expressed outright support for the proposal. Several agreed with Michael Foote that any changes to the zoning should be deferred until the Master Plan is completed next year.  “I’d really like to see the final stuff of the Master Plan,” he said, adding that, “the cart is leading the horse,” a remark echoed by three other speakers.
The mayor said that when the City Council adopted the proposal and referred it to the Planning Board, “we knew that it called for a sit-down with the board to discuss all the details.” He said that he and City Manager Scott Myers agreed that rather than the council and board meet together it would be more efficient for a smaller group of representatives of each “to hash out the details. However,” he continued, “the chairman of the Planning Board flatly rejected this suggestion.” Instead, “the chairman of the Planning Board has made it clear that he doesn’t think zoning is any of the City Council’s business. We think the City Charter says otherwise.”
Dean Anson of the Conservation Commission and Fred Clausen of Proctor’s Lakehouse Cottages expressed concern that commercial development along US Route 3 would lead to significant increases in storm water run-off that would impair the quality of water flowing through the Weirs Channel and into Paugus Bay, the source of municipal drinking water.
Clausen was among several, including Jeff Thurston of Thurston’s Marina, Mary Hutchins and Deanna Duplak, to stress that The Weirs has always been and should always remain what he called “a tourist-related city.” Both Clausen and Hutchins said what they referred to as “industrial” development would impair the traditional character of The Weirs. “”Keep the tourists coming,” Thurston urged the board. “Changing the zoning doesn’t change anything.”
Duplak spoke against the proposal, suggesting it would spawn development and congestion akin to that along Daniel Webster Highway and the Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua. As she sketched her vision of The Weirs as a four-season resort that “has it all,” Charlie St. Clair of the Planning Board interrupted to ask “are you familiar with this plan as it stands?” Bill Contardo, vice chairman of the board, said “He’s interrogating her. That’s wrong.” St. Clair said he was only seeking “clarity,’ but was told by Warren Hutchins, chairman of the board, “I’d like you to be respectful.” Duplak said, “I don’t know the specifics. I’ve heard the guidelines. I’ve heard the rough direction we’re going in.”
Peter Stewart, an architect, questioned the wisdom of confining businesses to the ground floor and residences to the upper floors, pointing to Paugus Bay Plaza on Lake Street in Gilford, where what began as a hotel restricted to “transient occupancy” became a condominium complex, where long-term rentals proliferated to the dismay of town officials.
“I have tremendous respect for the mayor,” began Steve Whalley of HK Powersports. “He’s trying to deal with a problem and anyone who thinks this problem does’t exist is crazy. I think he deserves a little more consideration than some people are giving him.” He said the fewer and fewer visitors are coming to The Weirs each year and cautioned, “you can’t legislate the success the success of a business at The Weirs.” Above all, he said that he could not support the proposal because of the restrictions it would place on private property owners – “their property and their pocket books.”
Chris Duprey of Southworth Development, the firm developing Meredith Bay, the townhomes and lodges on Scenic Road and which owns some 200 acres on US Route 3, said that he understands the intent of the proposal to diversify and expand the property tax base to ease the burden on residential taxpayers, but questions the approach. He said that the year-round population at The Weirs represents too little effective demand to stimulate or support commercial development, explaining that people must come first, then business.
After closing the public hearing, Hutchins, who set himself against the proposal when it was first presented, began what he called “a tirade” in opposition to the proposal. “We are to keep an open mind,” he said, then declared “this plan is not ready for prime time.” In particular, he said that what the mayor called the “core principles” of the proposal were neither substantiated nor valid.
First, Hutchins said that the aim of expanding the commercial share of the city tax base, which at 15.8 percent, which is among the lowest of the 13 cities in the state, is “not attainable.” He said there is “an excess supply of commercial property” and denied the claim that the only open land suited to commercial development is at The Weirs. He noted the “overwhelming rejection” of the plan. Second, he, like Duprey, said neither the population nor the traffic count is sufficient to support commercial development at The Weirs and the prospects of bricks and mortar retail outlets will further diminish as e-commerce continues to grow. Hutchins also warned that the environmental impact of the proposal, particularly on water quality, would have adverse effects not only on The Weirs but on the whole city.
Hutchins drew support from the board. Hamilton McLean was among those who said that proceeding with the proposal would be putting “the cart before the horse” and so was Contardo, who also remarked “why are we telling someone what they should do?” Contardo also dismissed the need for a more balanced tax base. “It’s a wash,” he said. “You’re taxed at the same rate for residential as you are for commercial. So where’s the gain?”
After the board adopted Hutchins’s motion to reject the proposal, City Councilor Brenda Baer, standing in as the council’s liaison to the board, asked the Planning Board to consider a handful of proposed changes to the permitted uses in Commercial Resort District, which were part of the proposal. She noted that some of the changes were originally included in a larger proposal the Planning Board presented to the council, which was rejected in its entirety. The Planning Board agreed to refer the items to its Zoning Task Force for a review and recommendation.

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Belmont police may get a generous raise

Fire Department, Public Works employees could also see a pay bump

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

BELMONT — The selectmen's proposed 2017 town budget included a 6 to 12 percent across-the-board increase for the town's union police officers after a study showed they are among the lowest-paid police officers in the area.

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin told the Budget Committee in her presentation of the proposed budget that the town negotiated the 10-step pay plan modeled after the one in the Gilford Police Department as part of their recent three-year contract.

She said the two non-union sergeants had some upward adjustments made to their pay plans and the balance of the non-union employees in the department will get a 1.5 percent cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) raise plus a 2 percent pay increase, which is the same increase all non-union town employees will get if the budget passes as proposed.

The town also negotiated a 1.5 percent COLA increase and a one-step increase for the Fire Department union employees and a 5 percent increase with no COLA for the unionized Public Works Department employees.

All union contracts have eliminated Blue Choice as an option for health insurance except for those employees who are already enrolled. Beaudin said should an employee change his or her status, for example get married, then the Blue Choice is no longer available.

Other significant changes in the proposed 2017 budget include a 10.9 percent increase in the cost of health insurance, and the removal of the Building and Grounds Division from the Public Works Department line items to the General Administration line items, although the overall budget amount for the division remains consistent with 2016.

Other cost increase drivers for the 2017 budget are the increased contributions of the towns to the state retirement system that included a 3.05 percent increase for police officers and a 2.73 percent increase for firefighters/EMTs. The increase for all other town employees is 0.17 percent. The 0.17 percent doesn't include teachers, who are employed by the school district and not the town.

Overall, the proposed amount to be raised by taxes, excluding warrant articles, is $9,796,465 which is up 1.04 percent from this year's local budget of $9,758,540.

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